Economic Multipliers (19)

Do you know what these are?

They help CREATE wealth in systems.

Good drainage is an economic multiplier.


The neighborhood that I live in (housewise) is older. Most homes were built 40 plus years ago. The original builders and landscapers were smart. Most homes were built with drainage swales and sump pumps (pumps which pump water out and away from the foundation during rainstorms and periods of melting snow).

Time has a way of ‘leveling’ things. Drain tiles (effectively conduits to whisk water away like a storm sewer that are placed along the foundations of homes) can become clogged with fine sands, silts and clays. Sump pumps work WHEN the water is able to get to them. Drainage swales (OPEN) ultimately fill up with organic debris (lawn clippings and other decomposing materials like leaves, wind-borne dirt, and even soil lifted up by tree roots).

Other factors affect good drainage like gutters and downspouts which whisk water away from homes and proper grading around foundations. (Note: Unless you are PURPOSELY directing water to a drain, you ALWAYS want water to flow away from foundations.)

I mention all these things because they make a difference in your ability to BUILD wealth.

The community I live in had a 4 inch rainstorm several years ago. A gutter that had not been cleaned out routinely enough overflowed. I was (ironically) dog sitting for a relative and made sure their basement was monitored. Had I been home, I would have taken a quick trip around the house to make sure everything was flowing away from the foundation. All the water coming off a whole section of roof that should have exited 10 feet from the house at a point where it would have flowed even further away dumped directly down by the foundation. Water got into the basement.

Amazingly, once in the basement, the water had a ‘perfect’ path. The original builder graded the concrete floor so at all points (from what I can tell) the floor slopes gently to a floor drain. Not all the neighbors were so lucky.

Approximately 6 blocks away, a sewage pipe broke (due to all the excess water in the system) and not only water but sewage backed up into some basements. Fortunately quick action by city and cleanup crews alleviated the problem (but unfortunately many people had to throw away things they would have preferred to save).

Recently, during a heavy a rainstorm, a 2nd-story gutter that was getting routine maintenance (but not routine enough obviously) clogged due to all the ‘helicopters’ that have been coming off older maple trees in the last few years – either because the trees are taller / larger or because nature has some way of spreading more seeds as trees mature. Once again, water poured off the roof but this time I was home. Some small plastic trash cans, a tarp and a 2x4 to anchor the edge of the tarp on top of the trash cans allowed me to create a drainage path / funnel to redirect the water away from the foundation. We may not have gotten water in the basement anyway because this was a ‘lesser’ storm but the street (in our section up to the sidewalk) and many backyards flooded.

I myself got flooded as ALL the water from the upper section of roof poured down on me as I placed the tarp but my shoes needed to get washed anyway … I immediately had the necessary materials at my fingertips … the weather was still warm … AND I was home this time … how lucky can you get?!

The houses on both sides of me are fairly close. One yard is higher elevation-wise. One yard is lower. The neighbor with the lower yard gets runoff from both properties but fortunately the water drains to the back edge of their property and there is a storm drain in the corner of the lot.

A person like me (I’ve taken many water courses and worked on many water projects) tends to pay attention to where water flows, why it’s there, and how long it will take to leave (if it can).

The storm drain in the back of the property is ‘interesting:’ A pipe’s ‘capacity’ to carry water is dependent, for the most part, on its size and the water gradient as long as there is no clogging. If the storm drain on the street is full, the storm drain connection to the street will fill up and water will temporarily stop flowing (or at least not flow fast enough). When it does, the water starts building up in backyards and starts moving ‘houseward.'

The neighbors with the lower property had ‘master’ graders and thought ‘smart.’ A shed behind the house appears (based on water levels I’ve observed over the years) to have a floor elevation that matches the elevation approximately 5-10 feet from the house. The base is much lower. What this means is that if water does build up, the shed floor stays dry.

You might say: What if the water builds up further? It could but that’s why drainage swales (OPEN) are so important. During the last major storm, backyard water could not enter the storm sewer system because it was full but the street is lower than the backyards. A drainage swale (a mini river bed that is almost unnoticeable unless you’re paying attention) carried water between our house and theirs toward the street. The ‘buildup’ of water in our near neighbors’ backyards was gone within 8 hours of the storm start. The next door neighbor on the low side got no water in their basement.

Some people would say that our neighborhood ‘flooded.’ I even used this term. But we’re approximately 60 feet above a major river that’s a mile away. Water in our neighborhood really just wants to flow toward ‘depressions.’ If that depression is a street with a full (at capacity) storm sewer system, the street is simply a TEMPORARY ‘storage area’ for the water and the only question is: HOW LONG will it take for the storm sewers to clear? That depends on whether it’s still raining, how much water has built up system-wide and whether any of the system is ‘clogged.'

Now, if the drainage swale did not exist, water may have reached our neighbor’s house (and their shed floor). There was no opportunity for it to do so. (As an added ‘benefit’ in our neighborhood, many neighbors gladly and routinely check the storm drains to make sure they stay ‘unclogged’ so water has a harder time building up. (OPEN))

Many people don’t think of their basements as ‘depressions’ that water wants to flow into but that is exactly what they are. Optimally water should always be ‘directed’ (through proper grading) and ‘channeled’ (through conduits like gutters, downspouts, drainage tiles / sump pumps and drainage swales) to lower areas as far from basements and foundations as possible so it can’t do any damage.

Many times we read and hear about major floods but very few people will deal with one of those in the course of their life:

  • It is ‘much more likely’ that they will be dealing with water pouring down off their roof and along their foundation because something got clogged.

  • It is ‘much more likely’ that their backyard will become a depression that traps water because a drainage swale failed or was never installed.

  • It is ‘much more likely’ that they’ll get water in their basement because their yard is not graded appropriately.

The ‘much more likely’ parts are all possible to either fix or prepare for.

Even in communities that worry about loss of power (because they routinely have outages), it’s possible to buy sump pumps with battery backup. Someone even mentioned to me once that in one community, someone took their generator house to house (when their community’s power went out) and offered to let people plug their sump pumps in for a short period of time to ‘clear’ the water around their foundations. (It’s possible to bail the water out — something I’ve done myself — but, like everyone else in the world, prefer not to have to do — and you still need a place to put the water after you’ve bailed it out.)

If power went out for days, I’d want someone going house to house offering generator service for refrigerators and freezers: You can bail out a sump pump by hand (and even use the water for toilets if the water system goes out too) but a fully loaded freezer (my best guess) needs power for one hour every 24 hours to keep problems at bay (open for food just before and ONLY before starting the power on cycle) and a refrigerator needs power for ½-1 hour every 12 hours to keep problems at bay (once again, open for food just before and ONLY before starting the power on cycle).

(Note: I live in a climate with moderate temperatures during the summer (rarely above 85 degrees), freezing winters (nature’s ice chest), know that you can flush a toilet with a bucket of water and have ways to boil water for at least 3 days if the power went out. I wouldn’t expect an ‘optimum’ temperature for the freezer or refrigerator … just something that would prevent major problems with spoilage and prevent people from getting sick. If I thought the power was going to be out long, I’d be immediately thinking about HOW to deal with the food in the freezer and refrigerator and what should be used first — since I’ve already thought about this before, it wouldn’t take long.)

When people think about ‘building’ their own base of wealth, they usually think first about money. But the first step to building wealth is really about finding ways to retain it. Personally or in communities or in systems, you never want to have to spend money on problems that were preventable.

Likewise, insurance is more affordable (from a pooled perspective) if less people need to file claims (for anything). You help protect and retain your neighbor’s wealth simply by helping protect and retain your own (and vice versa).


P.S. Basements are a ‘foreign’ concept to many people … even in the United States. In cold weather climates (where you have a frost zone), foundations will heave (lift up unevenly – they are not supposed to lift up at all) if they are not installed deep enough. Because foundations had to be installed so deep in many areas, people started taking advantage of dug-out space beneath their houses (their ‘crawl’ spaces) for storage. When heavy duty machinery made it easy to dig just a few feet deeper (keep in mind that without heavy equipment, basements originally were dug by hand), owners decided that it would be great to have space that they could stand up in for workshops, root cellars, rec rooms, storage, etc. My best guess is that basements became a ‘standard’ in all homes in this area 60 to 70 years ago. Many homes older than that have basements but you either had to have lots of money (relative to your neighbors) or lots of ‘helping hands’ (that old concept of ‘barn raising’ which the Amish still use) to get your basement dug.